(http://homileticsonline.com/subscriber/btl_display.asp?installment_id=93040449&item_id=93051428&keywords=massive%20void, visited on 3.29.2010)
So for the record, one light year is the distance light travels in a year; roughly six trillion miles. You and I have church members who run marathons, and 26 miles seems like a long distance to me. Try six trillion miles, and then multiply that by a billion. That's how large this void in our universe is.
I don’t know about you, but It’s hard for me to comprehend something that massive. But you know what’s even harder? Comprehending something that massive with nothing in it. I mean, surely the scientists have missed a lone planet or a renegade star, right? It's got to have something in there. And yet, all the data is conclusive: there is nothing there. This billion-light year void way out there in space is 100% empty.
How do you think something like that feels? It’s an odd question, I know – we’re not accustomed to thinking about something like space having feelings. But humor me for a minute: what does a billion light year void in our universe feel like? What kind of words come to mind - Cold? Alone? Hopeless? Isolated? What would it feel like to be right in the middle of a cosmic heap of nothing?
Empty space. An empty place. An empty tomb. A universe of nothing. A tomb of nothing.
“Perplexed” is the word Luke uses to describe how they felt when they entered that nothingness on Easter morning. Perplexed. Because it was not at all what they expected to find there. They fully anticipated a body there, because that is what you find in tombs. A tomb without a body in it is....well, it’s empty space, isn’t it? They fully expected to find the body of Jesus there, and as was their custom, they would anoint that body with the spices they brought. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.
How do you think Mary Magdalene felt in the midst of all that emptiness – the agonizing pain one feels when the space their best friend used to occupy is now empty? She was in the midst of the week-long period of mourning, as was their custom. They all were. And now, just three days removed, she has come to the tomb, armed with those spices; the ritual of her faith being the only thing filling up the emptiness. She expected to find Jesus’ body there. And what did she find? Nothing. An empty tomb.
We all have “massive voids” in our life, of one kind or another; and we know what they feel like: the empty space that exists when things that used to be there, or should be there, are not. It happens when we give our heart to someone who doesn't give theirs back. It happens when we practice and practice and practice, and still don't make the team. It happens when we wake up the day after being let go from our job with nothing to do. It happens when we try to do the right thing but somehow keep screwing it up over and over again. It happens when everything changes, and yet nothing seems to change.
We try, of course, to pretend the emptiness isn’t there; that we have our fill. Because the society you and I live in doesn’t look kindly upon empty things. So we tell ourselves, and tell others, Everything is fine. We’re managing real well since the funeral. Oh, we have plenty in the bank account. No, no, we’re not depressed. My mom and Dad – they’re getting along great. We’re not anxious one bit about life after graduation. We’re just fine. We’re fine.
And yet even our most well-crafted and well-intentioned rituals cannot fill up the empty space. These are huge cold spots; massive voids. Coming to the tomb and finding no body there. How does that make you feel?
They were perplexed, scripture tells us. Do ya think?! This is not what happens! From the time they were tiny children, from that moment when they first understood the fleeting nature of life and inevitability of death, they understood the harsh and iron-clad truth: tombs have bodies in them that never leave. So they were perplexed, and certainly other things too. Confused. Frightened. Discombobulated. When the gospel of Matthew talks about an “earthquake” at the tomb on Easter morning, it very well could have been the earthquate going on inside of Mary's mind!
Two men in dazzling clothes suddenly appear next to them. More perplexing; more confusion! Don't you see? From the minute the women set foot on that sacred ground, from the minute they peered inside the tomb, all bets were off! The two men – not angels, as other gospels suggest, but two men. In dazzling clothes, it says – sequins, maybe? Is it their clothes that were dazzling, or what they said that made them all bright and shiny? The question they asked; posed in the context of billions of light years of questions that surely were running through the minds of those women still trying to make sense of an empty tomb. The question they asked:
Why do you look for the living among the dead?
Why were they looking for the living among the dead? Better yet, was it even the living they were looking for? They had come to the tomb that morning to anoint a body, three days dead. And yet the bright and shiny men had asked them why they were looking for the living. Is it possible that those women didn’t fully understand what they were looking for on that Easter morning? Is it possible that we don’t, either?
Every year, on this day, we follow in the footsteps of those women. We come before this cross – a symbol of death, the worst kind of death – and we cover it with flowers. Front and back, top to bottom. A cross. It’s almost as if we know that those dazzling men weren’t just speaking to the women. They are still speaking, and they are asking us that same question today.
So why, my friends? Why? Why do WE come to this place, on this day, looking for the living among the dead?
Is it because we feel we have to, because it’s Easter? Or could it be because we, like Mary and the others, want so much to fill that massive void with something? We do not like empty things! We much prefer to find life in places where there was once death. We are creatures of beginnings, not endings. Around 350 years ago, the French mathematician Blaise Pascal surmised that the human heart is like an “infinite abyss.” Perhaps a billion light years big. He said that we try in vain to fill our hearts with everything around us — education, jobs, homes, money, friends, family. But none of these can fill the void completely. And so as Pascal so aptly puts it:
This infinite abyss can only be filled with an infinite and immutable object;
in other words, God.
Do you see what this means? Do you see the astounding paradox of it all? In finding nothing in the tomb, those women found everything. In confronting the cold dark abyss of death, they were surprised to find new life. That is what Mary and the other women came to understand as they ran back to find the others and tell them of all they had not seen and all they’d seen. Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he is risen!
You know, every Easter Sunday we gather in this sanctuary and celebrate the resurrection to the nth degree. We do Easter pretty well, I gotta say! We wear our lovely Easter outfits and ties; we bring our flowers to the cross. We sing rousing hymns like “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” and “Christ is Alive!” and fill this empty space with joyful sound. We gather before the Lord's table and share once again this holy meal. There’s an extra spirit in the air – handshakes become hugs, smiles smile a bit wider, and the joy of the day rests upon each of our hearts.
Have you noticed how it never gets old, no matter how many Easter services we attend in our life; no matter how many times we bring our flowers and sing our hymns and share in our meal? Have you noticed that the joy is always there? You know why that is? It’s because what fills the empty, hollow spaces on this glorious day is more than we can possibly imagine; more than we could ever hope for. You and I plunge head-first into the scandalous, outrageous reality of this day – that death does not have the last word. That death has been transformed into new life. That you and I are transformed in it.
In fact, that's why I love the way the gospel of Mark ends the Easter story. It’s similar to Luke's – the women come to the tomb, they find it empty, they’re met by a stranger who tells them to go tell the world. And you know what happens after that in Mark? You know what happens? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Unlike the other gospels, there are no resurrection appearances, there’s no road to Emmaus or doubting Thomas, there’s no eating grilled fish on the beach with Jesus. Nothing but empty space.
Except it’s not really empty. Because you and I get to fill that space up! You and I get to write our own ending to the Easter story! Those women have come to us, to tell us the Good News: that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. And you and I get to fill up that space and write our own ending and respond with our lives – by living as Easter people. By being a transformed people. By following the resurrected Jesus in loving our enemies and caring for the least of these and healing the broken and infusing new life in billion light-year voids.
So we leave the tomb behind – because, as the shiny guys said, he’s not there anymore. Jesus is out there, waiting for us to meet him and tell the world that they need not look for the living among the dead one moment longer.
So what are we waiting for, my friends? What are we waiting for?! Let's go find the risen Jesus! Let’s go find him and invite him to live in us forever, so we can embody him in this world. So empty tombs are no longer an ending but a beginning. Let's go find Jesus - because he is alive. He is alive!! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God! AMEN!